Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

May 7, 2012

Halt uranium mine that will poison Navajo water

Photo: Larry King by Shelbie Knox/ENDAUM

By New Mexico Environmental Law Center and Eastern Navajo Dine' Against Uranium Mining
SANTA FE, N.M.— The New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) and Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM) are urging the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revoke an ill-advised permit they gave to uranium mining company, Hydro Resources, Inc. 23 years ago. 
After ENDAUM and NMELC brought deficiencies in the permit application to EPA’s attention, the EPA took the unprecedented step of revisiting its decision to grant the permit.
“The permit is an ‘aquifer exemption,’ which allows Hydro Resources to conduct uranium mining in a groundwater aquifer under the community of Church Rock, NM,” says Eric Jantz, NMELC Staff Attorney and lead counsel on the case. “The type of uranium mining it is proposing would contaminate potable water with radiation and heavy metals, making it unfit for consumption forever. The EPA has both the legal authority and moral obligation to revoke the aquifer exemption.”
The type of mining is called in situ leach mining, or ISL, which involves injecting a chemical solution through ore zones to dissolve uranium so it moves freely in water.  Then the uranium-filled water is pumped to the surface where the uranium is chemically stripped, and the water is returned to the aquifer. No ISL operation in U.S. history has been able to restore groundwater in a mined aquifer to pre-mining quality. 
"Our communities have repeatedly expressed that we do not want this ISL mining or processing in Church Rock and Crownpoint,” says Larry J. King, ENDAUM Board Member and one of the more than 15,000 Navajo people who would be impacted by the mine. “We have expressed this through resolutions, litigation, even a Navajo Nation law. Because of a legal technicality, even though the mine site is in a Navajo community and surrounded by tribal land, the Navajo Nation law does not protect us from the proposed mine.  That's why it's crucial that EPA step in and revoke the aquifer exemption before risking any more harm to our water, our people, our culture and our future."
King, a member of the Navajo Nation and a former miner who has suffered adverse health effects because of his former occupation, started a fast-growing campaign on that calls on the EPA to protect drinking water in the Navajo community of Church Rock, NM. ( petition:
“There is a long legacy and many unhealed sores from uranium mining on Navajo land by companies that look to make a quick profit. I’m sick of watching my community suffer from the poisons of uranium mining,” adds King. “It’s been a very frustrating and long road, but we won’t back down.  We hope the petition will help inform Americans about this issue and hope to get more than 10,000 signatures to convince the EPA to do the right thing.”
Juana Colón, Communications and Public Education
New Mexico Environmental Law Center
505-989-9022, ext. 30
The mission of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center is to protect New Mexico's natural environment and achieve environmental justice for New Mexico's communities through legal representation, policy advocacy and public education. The New Mexico Environmental Law Center’s attorneys have handled over 100 critical cases in low-income and minority communities fighting pollution and environmental degradation. The NMELC charges few, if any, fees to its clients, most of who are from Hispanic and Native American communities. The NMELC is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year! Membership and gifts help New Mexico communities protect their natural environment and their health from toxic pollution, the degrading effects of growth and liabilities created by irresponsible mining.
ENDAUM is a Diné-led, grassroots non-profit organization governed by a Board of Directors who live in Diné communities in northwestern New Mexico affected by uranium mining. ENDAUM’s mission is to protect the purity of the water, air, lands and community health in areas impacted by Uranium activities for the present and future generations. ENDAUM works to empower our communities through education and sustainability to protect and respect the foundations of our Diné Way of Life.

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